Ronald Koeman pledged Monday to take the Netherlands back to playing attractive, attacking football as he began his second stint in charge of the national team that lost in the World Cup quarterfinal to eventual winner Argentina.
The 59-year-old Koeman said he wanted a return to the positive play of his first period as national coach from 2018-20 when he led a talented young team to qualification for the European Championship and the inaugural final of the Nations League.
He looked back not only on those achievements, “but the way we did it. We want to get back to that,” he said.
His comments came after some sections of the Dutch sports media were critical of Koeman’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, for what they perceived as a defensive style of play at the World Cup in November and December.
“I saw moments in matches when I thought, ‘This can be different, this must be different,’” Koeman said of his experience watching the Netherlands in Qatar.
“In the Netherlands, we try to play — and that is often the most difficult path — good, attractive, attacking football,” he said.
Referring to Van Gaal’s impressive undefeated run up to the World Cup quarterfinals, Koeman said: “Twenty internationals without losing — it would be unbelievable if I also manage that.”
But, he added: “I think it can be done differently and I want to do it differently.”
Koeman was first appointed national coach with the Netherlands in the doldrums after failing to qualify for the 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup. He led the team to a runner-up finish in the inaugural Nations League and was set to coach the team at the 2020 European Championship before it was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But when his dream job — coaching Barcelona — opened up after Quique Setién was fired, Koeman quit and moved back to the club where he made his name as an uncompromising defender and where he still lives.
Koeman lasted less than two seasons at Barcelona before being fired as the club struggled in the Spanish league and Champions League.
Now he says he has something to prove in his second stint with the Netherlands.
“I have to demonstrate I can be a successful coach who is successful at a major tournament,” he said. “The first step is qualifiers for the European Championship that begins in March.”
Koeman’s first match in the qualification round is a tough one — the Netherlands plays losing World Cup finalist France on March 24 in Paris. Also in the qualification group are Ireland, Greece and Gibraltar.